USA vs. Cuba preview: Winning isn’t enough; It’s time for performances we can believe in

Nobody asked for the Nations League. Jurgen Klinsmann recently gave an interview to Herculez Gomez of ESPN FC where he called the Nations League a waste of time for teams like the US, Mexico, and Costa Rica. And despite US Soccer’s best efforts to hype this game against Cuba into something resembling a big game, fans aren’t buying it: most recently reported ticket sale figures are hovering right around 9,000. In fact, the only thing the game against Cuba provides the US is an opportunity for mediocre US players like Gyasi Zardes to pad their stats against minnow opposition, and thereby validate (use that term loosely) Gregg Berhalter’s ridiculous decision to include them in the squad despite mountains of evidence suggesting that they aren’t good enough.

When the US roster was released in the middle of last week, there was a collective groan from the US fan base. The roster for these two Nations League game is almost exactly the same roster that failed to win the Gold Cup this summer. That’s right folks. The same group of guys who lost to Jamaica and Venezuela, who labored against a Guyana side ranked 177th in the world, who struggled against Panama, who almost lost to Dutch protectorate in Curacao, an who got completely overrun by Mexico in the Gold Cup Final has been called back together for reasons nobody with a brain can quite figure out. Berhalter then gave a goofy cookie-cutter statement about tough opposition and trying to integrate new players into the team. What?! New players?! The only new player on this roster is Brendan Aaronson of the Philadelphia Union. Other “new players” that Berhalter is getting a look at include: a 35 year old Brad Guzan with 61 caps, a 32 year old Tim Ream with 36 caps, a 32 year old Michael Bradley with 150 caps, Gyasi Zardes with 53 caps, Jordan Morris with 35 caps, Paul Arriola with 28 caps, DeAndre Yedlin with 59 caps, and his beloved Will Trapp who has been called in to every single US camp under Berhalter. So yeah, lots of new faces here.

Playing Cuba is always an odd proposition for the US, given the nature of the diplomatic issues between the two countries for the last 50 years. The US did play what amounted to a goodwill friendly in Havana back in 2016 (in a stadium that had no running water). Frequently, when Cuba plays against the US in the US, a number of players tend to defect and seek asylum in this country. While in the commentary booth for FOX during a game against Cuba at the 2013 Gold Cup, Eric Wynalda told a story about how when he played several Cuban players came up to him to ask how they could go about becoming US citizens. On the purely soccer side of things, Cuba is playing rather poorly. They looked halfway decent in the second part of 2018 as they posted four straight wins to close the year, three of which were in Nations League Qualifying. However, in 2019 they are winless and have lost six straight games. They didn’t score a single goal at the Gold Cup as they lost all three games: 7-0 against Mexico, 3-0 against Martinique, and 7-0 against Canada. So far in this current round of Nations League games they’ve been swept by Canada. They lost 6-0 in Toronto and then fell 1-0 in the return leg (that was played in George Town in the Cayman Islands). When it comes to roster makeup, Cuba is typically a homogenous team with all players based in Cuba and the manger being Cuban as well. Not the case in 2019. They are managed by an Italian named Lorenzo Membrini and have several players playing abroad: Aricheel Hernandez of Independiente in Panama, Yosel Piedra of USAC in Guatemala, and Luis Paradela of Reno 1868 right here in the US.

Notes:

1. Aside from the US not being good and nobody really thinking the Nations League is a set of real games, another reason ticket sales are low is that the US has already played at Audi Field in Washington DC this year: a 1-0 loss to Jamaica in May.
2. The return leg for the US against Cuba will also be played in George Town in the Cayman Islands.
3. For all of the talk about Gregg Berhalter’s attacking style of play, the US has struggled to score goals. They have been shut out four times under Berhalter and have failed to score more than one goal in five of the last six games.

When and where to find the game on US TV

Friday, October 11, 2019
Audi Field
Washington DC
7pm ET
Live on FS1, UniMas, TUDN, Sling Blue, Hulu Live, AT&T TV Now and fuboTV (free trial)

All-Time Series

USA leads 10-1-1

Last Meeting

Friday, October 7, 2016
Estadio Pedro Marrero
Havana, Cuba
Cuba 0-2 USA

Current FIFA Ranking

USA: 21
Cuba: 178

Next Game

Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Nations League
USA @ Canada
BMO Field
Toronto, Ontario
7:30pm ET
ESPN2, TUDN, UniMas

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